Bilingual Bicultural Education: What parents should know

Bilingual-bicultural education means simply that when a child goes to school he or she studies in two languages rather than one.

In the United States one of these languages is English; the other is the language spoken in the child’s home or in the immediate community in which he or she lives. Studies have shown that children do better in school when instruction is given in their native language while they learn a new language. It has also been found that thrusting a child into a situation where instruction is given in an unfamiliar language will have a negative effect on the child's self-image; that is, the way he or she views himself or herself.

But you should remember, too, that bilingual education is more than just taking a course in another language, as is done in standard foreign language classes, e.g., studying Spanish, French, or Russian. Bilingual education involves taking course work or subjects in a language other than English, for example, social studies, mathematics, science, or fine arts. Additionally, it means that the child would also study English, take courses or subjects in English, and generally become proficient and literate in that language as well as in his or her dominant language.

Bilingual education programs offer a unique opportunity to utilize the services of the parent and other community persons as educational resources. In many instances, community persons bring to the classroom a wealth of language experiences, children's songs, games, stories, and poems that they may recall from their own childhood and that may become part of the curriculum.



Many of our ideas about education are old fashioned and not very accurate. One common misconception is that if children spend part of their time learning in another language their learning of English will be slowed or impaired. This is not true. If a bilingual program is well designed and well run, your child's learning of English will not be slowed down. Many of these programs have demonstrated that children actually improve in their use of the English language.

If you have ever studied a foreign language, you know that you also learned a lot more about your own language. This is due to the increased emphasis on the elements and organization of language, which leads to a deeper knowledge of the similarities and differences between languages.



There are many ways that parents and interested individuals can help ensure the success of a bilingual-bicultural education program. Among these are the following:

(1) Familiarize yourself with State and Federal guidelines for programs. These may be obtained from your local school district.

(2) Visit the program in the schools. Ask the staff to explain what they do and how. You also have a right to ask to see proposals, curriculum material, planning documents, and evaluation reports. If you need help in understanding them, ask the teacher or staff to assist you. Don't feel that you are imposing on the school. These are rights you have under the law.

 (3) If you know that a group of other parents may be interested, ask the principal or director to schedule an information meeting for parents. Teachers and students can take part in demonstrating the program to the group. Outside consultants may also be invited to speak or to assist in planning, disseminating information, evaluating, or some other aspect of the program.

(4) Talk to your children about the program. Find out how they feel about their schooling, curriculum, etc. Often, children can provide meaningful insights into education, since they, along with the teachers, are the most prominently involved on a day-to-day basis.

(5) Don't miss any opportunities to talk with teachers or other staff about your child's progress in school. Ask for specific suggestions on how you can help. If you have trouble with English, ask that they speak to you in your own language or that they provide an interpreter. Schools are required by the Federal Government to make sure that communications do not break down because of language differences. If your school does not invite you often enough for parent-teacher conferences, you may call and ask for such a meeting.


Source: A Handbook for Parents Who Want to Know More about Bilingual-Bicultural Education. - Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights